All posts filed under: Review

Modern Europe and the Enlightenment—A Review

A review of Modern Europe and the Enlightenment by Rumy Hasan. Sussex Academic Press, 240 pages (May 2021). In a June 2019 interview given to the Financial Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin brashly declared that the liberal idea had outlived its purpose. He supported this claim by noting that the public had rejected ostensibly “liberal” European policy stances on immigration, open borders, and multiculturalism. In his new book, Modern Europe and the Enlightenment, social scientist Rumy Hasan rigorously explores whether the aforementioned positions really are consonant with liberal democracy and the Enlightenment values that underpin it, and concludes that Putin was burning a straw man. If Hasan is correct, then the entire configuration of the political board game has been misconstrued. This makes his argument pivotal to understanding how well (or poorly) the rhetorical labels ascribed to political policies fit their substance. Modern Europe and the Enlightenment opens by presenting a balanced examination and robust summary of Enlightenment values. Hasan diligently charts counter-Enlightenment influences in Europe, whether in the cultural relativism of soi-disant liberals, the …

Six Great Ideas from Adam Grant’s ‘Think Again’

A review of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. Viking Press, 320 pages (February 2021). Of everything a person must maintain, his mind is most important, and king of all is his connection to reality. Yet, our tether to the world can be tenuous. Our ideas, particularly our most fundamental ones, help us make sense of the world. But if they’re wrong, they completely shift the image, like a turn of the kaleidoscope. Nature is no child’s toy, though, and to be commanded, it must be obeyed. So, as much as we hate to feel the ground move beneath our feet, we have real incentives to get things right, even if that means upending ideas we’ve held for decades. And, according to Wharton professor Adam Grant, the trait of regularly rethinking one’s beliefs, big and small, is what puts the best thinkers a cut above the rest. In fact, a propensity toward frequent and flexible rethinking in the face of new evidence may even outstrip IQ as an …

Cancelling Comedians While the World Burns—A Review

Review of Cancelling Comedians While the World Burns: A Critique of the Contemporary Left by Ben Burgis. Zero Books, 136 pages (May 2021). In 2013, British philosopher and cultural critic Mark Fisher found himself exhausted and losing interest in politics after spending too much time in the “miserable, dispiriting zone” of left-wing Twitter. Leftist politics, he wrote, had become a “vampires’ castle” the sinister denizens of which were driven not by thirst for the blood of the living but “a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd” [emphasis in the original]. The vampires are supported by the institutions of capital, which found them useful for disrupting working-class solidarity. In Cancelling Comedians While the World Burns: A Critique of the Contemporary Left, Ben Burgis—a democratic socialist, occasional Quillette contributor, and the author of Give Them an Argument—follows Fisher into (or out of) the vampires’ castle, and quotes his essay frequently. Over 136 pages, …

Masochistic Nationalism—A Review

A review of Masochistic Nationalism: Multicultural Self-Hatred and the Infatuation with the Exotic by Göran Adamson. Routledge, 138 pages (March 2021). In his 1945 essay, “Notes on Nationalism,” George Orwell contrasted “positive nationalism”—pride in one’s country—with the “negative” and “transferred” nationalisms displayed by supporters of the Soviet Union—the denigration of one’s country and the embrace of another. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their merits, but according to who performed them. “Within the intelligentsia,” he wrote, “a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory, but it is an unfaked emotion in many cases.” In his new book, Swedish academic Göran Adamson calls this combination of negative and transferred nationalisms “masochistic nationalism,” a term he then uses to analyse developments in modern Western Europe. Masochistic nationalism is defined as unjustifiable hostility to one’s own nation infused with a sense of pleasure and grandeur, combined with loyalty to another nation (or other nations) which are said to offer a more positive example of what nationalism ought to be. Adamson identifies …

Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe—A Review

A review of Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe by Niall Ferguson. Allen Lane, 496 pages (May 2021) Viewed from a certain angle, history appears to be the legacy of our errors—the record of humanity risking too much and anticipating too little, getting things wrong and getting them wrong all over again. If there is a fatal flaw (in a Greek sense) that underwrites our experience of history and gives it a tragic aspect, it is—to appropriate a phrase from Kierkegaard—that we are doomed to live it forwards and understand it backwards. In his novel, The Plot Against America, Philip Roth called this “the relentless unforeseen,” the treadmill of the unknowable on which we are forever running. Roth’s novel—in which the isolationist celebrity Charles Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election and signs a peace treaty with Imperial Japan and the Third Reich—inverts our conception of catastrophe: America avoids the disasters of Pearl Harbor and the Second World War, but inherits other kinds, as the country finds itself insidiously neutral towards Nazi Germany, anti-Semitism festers, …

When Men Behave Badly—A Review

A review of When Men Behave Badly: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment, and Assault by David M. Buss, Little, Brown Spark, 336 pages (April 2021) Professor David M. Buss, a leading evolutionary psychologist, states in the introduction of his fascinating new book that it “uncovers the hidden roots of sexual conflict.” Though the book focuses on male misbehavior, it also contains a broad and fascinating overview of mating psychology. Sex, as defined by biologists, is indicated by the size of our gametes. Males have smaller gametes (sperm) and females have larger gametes (eggs). Broadly speaking, women and men had conflicting interests in the ancestral environment. Women were more vulnerable than men. And women took on far more risk when having sex, including pregnancy, which was perilous in an environment without modern technology. In addition to the physical costs, in the final stages of pregnancy, women must also obtain extra calories. According to Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, pregnant women in their final trimester require an additional 200 calories per day, or …

Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life—A Review

A review of Beyond Order: 12 More Rule for Life by Jordan B. Peterson. Penguin Books, 402 pages. (March 2021) “Any sensible person would be taken aback by all this,” writes Jordan Peterson in Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. He is trying to make sense of the astounding impact of his previous book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Why had the book’s message resonated so profoundly with so many? And what is the significance of its stratospheric success? What is to be learnt from his videos clocking tens of millions of views? And what motivated thousands to attend his sold-out world lecture tour? In one town after another, they applauded when he appeared on stage and hung on his every word. After the show, they sought not an autograph, but a handshake with the man they credit with breathing meaning into their lives. “My work,” he reflects, “must be addressing something that is missing.” Careful observation of his audiences revealed an answer—“the mention of one topic in particular,” he remarks, “brought …

Sex, Drugs, and Antiquity

A review of The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name by Brian C. Muraresku. St Martin’s Press, 480 pages. (September 2020) A growing appreciation of plant medicines over the past few decades has allowed the media to shine a favorable spotlight on the previously proscribed use of ayahuasca, psilocybin, and other lesser-known plant allies in the “Age of Entheogens.” In the Entheogenic (“manifesting god within”) Era, for the first time since Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” 50 years ago, not only are entire universities and medical schools like Johns Hopkins conducting studies on these plants, but advocates are coming out of the most unlikely corners of the sober professional class to advocate for their proper use. One such professional is Brian Muraresku, a Jesuit-educated classics scholar, DC lawyer, and graduate of Brown University and Georgetown Law. He remains a “psychedelic virgin” but has nonetheless penned what will likely become a classic study of the ancient use of drugged beer and wine in the Near East and Europe, and the …

The Problem With Linking Censorship to Incitement

Once we have reinstated this distinction between words and violence, we might then move on to consider the question of how the one can lead to the other. This is perhaps the most compelling argument for restrictions on speech. If it can be determined that certain forms of speech incite violence, then there is a case to be made that responsibility is thereby shared between the perpetrator of the crime and the individual who provoked it. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is frequently cited in order to demonstrate a causal relationship between speech and vio­lence. The RTLM radio broadcasts that called on Hutus to “cut down the tall trees,” and described the Tutsi minority as “cock­roaches” and “snakes”—dehumanising language reminiscent of the Nazi propaganda that depicted Jews as rats—are said to be culpable in the stirring up of a maelstrom of hatred that resulted in the murder of almost a million people. Incitement to violence has always been an offence under English common law, but the definition has also been open to subjective interpretation. At …

The New Age of Empire—A Review

A review of The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World by Kehinde Andrews. Bold Type Books, 288 pages. (March 2021) In the days and weeks following the death of George Floyd, as Americans marched, and in some cases, burned their own cities, the world of public relations swung into action. They advised their clients to take note of these developments, and to be aware that hitherto innocuous attitudes and products might cause unintended offence in the new climate. This produced some surprising and counter-intuitive behaviour. When a happy customer congratulated Yorkshire Tea on Twitter for resisting the urge to make a fashionable political statement, a representative curtly responded that Yorkshire Tea “stood against racism” and then, for good measure, added: “Please don’t buy our tea again.” The PG Tips tea company owned by Unilever rapidly expressed solidarity with its rival. As anti-BLM bloggers and tweeters began demanding a boycott of Yorkshire Tea, Unilever issued a statement: “If you are boycotting teas that stand against racism, you’re going to have to …